How to Calm Anxiety at Night

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Jing Zhang is a prominent figure in the realm of sleep research, specializing in the intricate connection between sleep and memory. With an extensive research tenure exceeding 7 years, she…

Read more
Last Updated On December 12th, 2023
How to Calm Anxiety at Night

Key Takeaways

  • Root Causes of Nighttime Anxiety: Nighttime anxiety often stems from unresolved concerns, stress, past traumas, and biological factors like imbalances in neurotransmitters or hormone fluctuations. Identifying specific triggers, such as financial worries or relationship issues, can aid in developing effective coping strategies.
  • Impact of Anxiety on Sleep: Anxiety activates the body’s fight or flight response, leading to increased alertness and heart rate, making it challenging to relax and achieve restful sleep. Anxiety can also alter the stages of sleep, reducing the time spent in deep sleep, crucial for physical and mental restoration.
  • Distinguishing Anxiety and Panic Attacks: It’s essential to differentiate between general anxiety symptoms and more acute episodes, such as nocturnal panic attacks. Nocturnal panic attacks, characterized by intense fear and discomfort, can disrupt sleep and contribute to heightened anxiety at night. Understanding the differences between anxiety and panic attacks is crucial for effective management.

Nighttime anxiety is a common yet unsettling experience for many, especially for youngsters. It can turn the restful evenings into hours of unrest. As the world goes quiet, the voice of internal worries starts taking control of your mind—resulting in persistent nighttime wakefulness.

While anxiety is a temporary experience, if not managed well, it can persist or get worse over time. This guide will provide you with actionable strategies to help calm the mind and have a restful sleep at night.

Save $450 On Any Mattress

Plus free shipping

Get $450 OFF Mattresses

Here’s how.

What Causes Anxiety at Night?

There can be multiple sources causing anxiety disorder at night. Stress, unresolved concerns, challenging turns in life, or past traumas can resurface in the stillness of the evening and make it challenging to have a good night’s sleep.

Some biological factors, like imbalances in neurotransmitters or hormone fluctuations, can also exacerbate anxiety disorders.

For example, fluctuations in cortisol levels Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source —the stress hormone—due to excessive stress or poor sleep can influence the processing of fear, anxiety, and related memory mechanisms.

In many people, the consumption of stimulants like caffeine, especially late in the day or closer to bedtime, can increase alertness, disrupt sleep patterns, and trigger anxiety. These stimulants are also linked with symptoms of depression. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source

How Does Anxiety Impact Sleep?

Anxiety and sleep Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source are correlated. When anxiety levels rise, the body’s fight or flight response gets activated, resulting in a rush of stress hormones, leading to increased alertness and heart rate.

It makes it challenging to relax into a restful slumber. Persistent nighttime worries can cause sleep fragmentation, frequent awakenings, and difficulty falling asleep.

Moreover, anxiety changes how a person moves through the stages of sleep. Anxious people are known to have a shorter REM stage of sleep and less in deep sleep—which is important for restoring the body and mind.

There’s a bidirectional Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source relationship between anxiety and sleep, which means that while anxiety negatively impacts sleep, insufficient sleep can make anxiety even worse, which forms a vicious cycle, according to Dr. Jing Zhang.

Anxiety vs. Panic Attacks

Nighttime anxiety can be a pervasive challenge, turning what should be restful evenings into hours of unrest, especially for younger individuals. It is essential to distinguish between general anxiety symptoms and more acute episodes, such as nocturnal panic attacks, which can intensify the struggle to attain a night of peaceful sleep.

Nocturnal panic attacks, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source characterized by sudden and intense surges of fear and discomfort, often awaken individuals from sleep, contributing to a heightened state of anxiety during nighttime hours. Research indicates Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source that 44-71% of patients with panic disorder have reported at least one episode of nocturnal panic.

Anxiety and panic attacks are related but distinct experiences, each characterized by different symptoms and durations. Here’s an overview of the differences between anxiety and panic attacks:


  1. Definition: Anxiety is a general term that refers to a feeling of unease, worry, or fear. It’s a normal human emotion and can be a response to stress or a perceived threat.
  2. Duration: Anxiety can be short-term or long-term. It can be a chronic condition or a temporary response to a specific situation.
  3. Symptoms: Common symptoms of anxiety include restlessness, muscle tension, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances. These symptoms are usually milder compared to those of a panic attack.
  4. Triggers: Anxiety can be triggered by various stressors, such as work, relationships, financial concerns, or health issues.
  5. Intensity: Anxiety tends to be less intense than a panic attack. It can be a lingering feeling that may come and go.

Panic Attacks:

  1. Definition: A panic attack is a sudden and intense surge of fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes. It is a discrete period of intense fear accompanied by physical and cognitive symptoms.
  2. Duration: Panic attacks are usually brief, typically lasting for about 10 minutes or less. However, the effects can linger.
  3. Symptoms: Symptoms of a panic attack can include a rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, sweating, trembling, and a sense of impending doom or loss of control. Individuals experiencing a panic attack may also feel like they are having a heart attack.
  4. Triggers: Panic attacks can occur unexpectedly, without an obvious trigger. They can also be triggered by specific situations or phobias.
  5. Intensity: Panic attacks are characterized by a sudden and overwhelming intensity of fear or discomfort. The physical symptoms are often more pronounced than those associated with general anxiety.

It’s important to note that while anxiety and panic attacks have distinct features, they can coexist, and an individual with an anxiety disorder may also experience panic attacks.

10 Steps to Reduce Anxiety at Night

While practicing good sleep hygiene shouldn’t be the only plank for a platform that helps you manage anxiety in your life, having the right sleep strategies Verified Source Harvard Health Blog run by Harvard Medical School offering in-depth guides to better health and articles on medical breakthroughs. View source can be a key part of falling asleep with anxiety.

Understand the Root Causes

Nighttime anxiety, in many cases, is not an isolated occurrence. It is frequently an echo or cry of your body about the unresolved concerns or events from the day hours.

Taking a moment to introspect the underlying cause can be challenging but can provide valuable insights.

By identifying the specific triggers, whether they are financial worries, relationship issues, or work-related stresses, you can better approach your conditions. This way, you can find better coping strategies.

Establish a Nighttime Routine

Consistency is key when dealing with challenges like anxiety and mental disorders. In the realm of uncertainties, consistency provides a predictable ground.

A predictable routine signals to the brain that it’s time to wind down. This can be reading a book, taking a warm bath before bed, or listening to something you love.

Over time, with consistency, these activities become associated with relaxation and sleep, making it easier to transition into a restful state.

Create a Soothing Sleep Environment

Your bedroom should be the place you find comfortable. By decluttering your bedroom space, you will feel untangled, relaxed, and have a sense of calmness.

Good sleep hygiene, soft lighting, comfortable bedding, and calming bedroom colors for sleep can all contribute to a serene ambiance, facilitating quality sleep. You can also keep anything in your room that you find soothing to promote relaxing feelings.

See also:

Limit Screen Time

Digital devices work as a constant source of disturbance and distractions. Plus, they also emit blue light—a culprit in exacerbating anxiety.

Blue light emitted by these devices can hinder melatonin production, which is part of the body’s circadian rhythms that keep. Disrupted levels of melatonin can make it significantly challenging for you to fall asleep.

It is best to set a digital curfew, putting away all of your devices at least an hour before bedtime. It will allow your mind to detach from the day’s stresses and prepare your body for sleep.

Deep Breathing

When feeling anxious, our breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Intentional deep breathing exercises can activate the natural relaxation response of your body. Deep inhaling, followed by a pause and slow exhaling, can lift your attention from anything other than how you breathe.

This way, you can significantly reduce your anxious feelings enough to fall asleep.

One effective deep breathing exercise is called 4-7-8 breathing. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth, throughout the exercise.
  2. Inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. Focus on filling your lungs with air, allowing your abdomen to expand as you breathe in.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Keep the air in your lungs without straining.
  4. Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth to a count of eight. Ensure that you expel all the air from your lungs, and feel a sense of release and relaxation.
  5. This completes one breath cycle. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Box breathing is another common technique involving four equal phases. Find a comfortable position, then inhale for a count of four, hold your breath for four, exhale for four, and hold again for four. Repeat this cycle, focusing on slow and deliberate breaths.

Journal Your Thoughts

Journaling before bed allows you to dump whatever worries you have and process your emotions. It offers a structured way to confront our anxieties and things that concern us. This can help clear your mind and reduce anxiety Verified Source ScienceDirect One of the largest hubs for research studies and has published over 12 million different trusted resources. View source according to a study.

Writing also helps you in better thinking. If you think of a situation objectively, you will be less likely to stress about it. If you are anxious and confused about what you should write, start listing your worries. You can also note things you are grateful for or simply document the day’s events.

Journaling before bed is a great and impactful way of decluttering your mind and preparing it for rest.

Mind Your Diet

Diet is correlated with your mental health and state. What we eat influences our anxiety levels, as does when we eat, which is why we recommend caution about eating late before bed.

For example, people who eat a diet rich in protein Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source are less likely to feel depressed and anxious. They are also more likely to shift through the anxious state.

Caffeine and sugar, especially when consumed late in the evening, can stimulate the body, making it difficult to relax. They work as stimulants and keep your mind active and alert. Read more about How Long Does It Take for Caffeine to Wear Off for Sleep.

Stimulant-rich foods can make it very challenging for you to fall asleep. On the other hand, soothing meals, like a diet containing a high number of whole, less processed foods, can help your body fight against anxious thoughts creeping into your head.

Physical Relaxation Techniques

A tense body often accompanies anxiety. Physical relaxation exercises, where you tense and then relax different muscle groups, can help alleviate tension. Gentle stretching and relaxing movements can relax both the mind and body, facilitating restorative sleep.

For example, there’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), a widely recognized and effective technique for alleviating anxiety and promoting relaxation, particularly when aiming to ease into a restful sleep. PMR involves systematically tensing and then releasing different muscle groups throughout the body.

The process begins by focusing attention on a specific muscle group, tensing it for a few seconds, and then consciously releasing the tension while paying close attention to the sensations of relaxation. As anxiety often manifests physically, PMR can be a valuable tool for calming both the body and the mind.

Reframe Your Negative Thoughts

An anxious mind magnifies negative thoughts. It views everything with a bleak outlook. Cognitive reframing allows you to challenge and change negative thought patterns.

Instead of thinking ‘My life is screwed,’ try thinking, ‘I’ll relax and see what happens.’ Challenge these thinking patterns by asking yourself if they are based on facts or irrational fears.

Consider alternative, more positive interpretations of the situation. Think of more realistic outcomes and recognize that catastrophic thoughts are often exaggerated.

Try to limit “what if” thinking as you prepare for bed, as well. Instead of fixating on “what if” scenarios, focus on what you can control in the present. Recognize that constant worry about hypothetical situations contributes to anxiety.

Consider seeking the guidance of a mental health professional who can offer specialized techniques and support. Over time, shifts in perspective can reduce the intensity of nighttime anxieties.

Get Help Before You Hit the Rock Bottom

Anxiety can be hard to manage, particularly if you are dealing with potential comorbidities, such as sleep disorders or neurodivergence that can affect sleep, such as:

Life is full of uncertainties, and you need a solid and stable ground to overcome these feelings, down to a good night’s rest.

If anxiety constantly impedes your sleep, or if your coping strategies aren’t helping you much, it is better to ask for help. Seeking help from a professional therapist or counselor can offer valuable tools and perspectives. After all, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.


How to sleep with anxiety and depression?

Anxiety and depression make it hard to fall asleep. Prioritize a regular sleep schedule and calming bedtime rituals. Create a serene sleep environment and limit disruptions. Write down your thoughts to process emotions and practice deep breathing to prevent your negative thoughts.

Why is anxiety worse at night?

The solitude of night can amplify unresolved thoughts and worries. This is why many people find their anxiety getting more serious at night. Reduced distractions allow the mind to ruminate on stressors and worries about the next day. Fatigue can lower our emotional resilience, making it challenging to regulate anxious feelings.

Additionally, factors like hormonal fluctuations, increased quietness amplifying thoughts, or an irregular sleep schedule can contribute.

How do I stop overthinking at night in bed?

Overthinking at night can hinder relaxation and sleep onset. To break this cycle, consider implementing strategies such as journaling to unload thoughts, creating a to-do list for the next day, or practicing cognitive strategies to redirect focus.

Establish a winding-down bedtime routine, limit screen time, and create a comfortable sleep environment. If overthinking persists, cognitive-behavioral therapy and speaking with a mental health professional can offer tailored solutions to manage and alleviate nighttime overthinking.

What are the symptoms of sleep anxiety?

The common symptoms of sleep anxiety include:

  • Worry about sleep,
  • Racing thoughts when trying to fall asleep,
  • Feelings of tension or dread about bedtime,
  • Frequent awakening with anxious thoughts,
  • Nightmares related to stress,
  • Excessive concern about the consequences of sleep loss,
  • Reluctance or fear of sleeping alone.


Nighttime and sleep anxiety are common, but it doesn’t have to define your evenings. By integrating the above-mentioned strategies into your routine, you can reclaim your nights, fostering a space of relaxation and rejuvenation—that you need to thrive in life.

For vibrant days, it is important to have restful nights. If you are facing challenges, it is okay to seek help along the way.

About the author

Mitchell Tollsen is a graduate student and a freelance writer who’s contributed to the Early Bird blog for three years. Mitchell’s always been fascinated by the science of sleep and the restorative processes our bodies undergo when at rest. The self-titled “Sleep Expert” is always looking for ways to improve his shut-eye, and throughout the years has implemented numerous lifestyle changes and tried dozens of sleep-promoting gadgets to determine the best ways to truly get better rest.

View all posts

Discover the ultimate sleep system

Choose your mattress

Shop top-rated mattresses with proven sleep-boosting materials.

Get a pillow

We have the perfect pillow to pair with your mattress.

Browse Pillows

Pick out bedding

Bring out the best in your mattress with our soft and breathable bedding.

Browse Bedding